Eta overshadows Spain’s election campaign

Political right recall terrorist group, which disbanded last year

The legacy of defunct terrorist group Eta is once again informing Spanish politics as the country’s general election campaign has got off to an acrimonious start.

On Friday, campaigning officially began ahead of the April 28th election. Although the issue of Catalan independence has dominated national politics in recent months, the political right has shifted its focus to Basque nationalism.

On Sunday, the unionist Ciudadanos party staged a campaign rally in Errenteria, a town where Eta killed 19 people during its four-decade campaign for Basque independence. Locals who opposed the rally clashed with police while others banged pots and pans to drown out the speeches of those present, who included Maite Pagazaurtundúa, whose brother Joseba was killed by Eta in 2003.

"I've come here to fight the battle against nationalism because it is the true cancer of Spain and Europe," said Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera. Errenteria is governed by the pro-independence EH Bildu party.

Mr Rivera compared Basque nationalism with that of Catalonia, where he made reference to an incident when pro-independence activists reportedly used bleach to clean a square after a member of his party had spoken.

“What a shame that you were not brave enough in your day to use bleach against Eta,” Mr Rivera said, addressing protesters.

Campaign of violence

Eta killed more than 800 people during its campaign of violence. It has not killed since shooting a policeman in France in 2010 and last year announced its disbandment.

“Nine years after its last crime, the wounds caused by the old demon that is terrorism are still being felt in an electoral campaign,” noted El País newspaper.

While campaigning in the northwestern region of Galicia, the leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, also mentioned the terrorist group, warning that its heirs "have never been so in control in Spain".

Casado and his party have frequently accused Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez of being in cahoots with Basque and Catalan nationalists, because in the last legislature he required their parliamentary support. However, on Monday, the Socialists reiterated a refusal to negotiate an independence referendum and a commitment to increase existing self-rule powers in Catalonia.

The Socialists have a comfortable lead in polls, ahead of the PP, Ciudadanos and the leftist Podemos, although it is not clear if Mr Sánchez would be able to form a parliamentary majority.

The PP and Ciudadanos have been accused of exploiting the Eta issue as they seek to improve their polling. Pablo Echenique, of Podemos, said that Mr Rivera went to Errenteria “aiming to set on fire the co-existence between the different people of Spain in order to mop up hate-fuelled votes in other parts of the country”.

Generate conflict

Meanwhile, the Catalan issue also continues to generate conflict.

Last week, one of the PP’s candidates in the election, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, struggled to get into an event at Barcelona’s Autonomous University when several dozen pro-independence students blocked her way and chanted insults. Video footage shows Ms Álvarez de Toledo struggling to get through a crowd of protesters and police stepping in to separate her from them. One man next to her is seen performing what appears to be a fascist salute reminiscent of the Franco dictatorship.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain